Sorry folks, Elvis is not buried hereóbut some other big names are. Recall any important historical figure from Chicago, and there's a good chance that they'll be resting here. Some of the more famous residents of Graceland Cemetery include the architect Daniel Burnham, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, and railcar tycoon George Pullman, making the cemetery a surprisingly popular tourist destination. Graceland Cemetery is Chicago's most famous cemetery, as well as being one of the city's most attractively landscaped settings. The expansive lawn and vast assortment of headstones are shaded with some of the city's largest and most spectacular oak, elm, and maple trees. †
Graceland Cemetery Facts
Location: about 8 miles north of the Loop
Bordering Neighborhoods: Lakeview, Lakeview East, Wrigleyville, Buena Park, Uptown
Boundaries: Montrose Avenue to the north, Kenmore Avenue to the east, Irving Park Road to the south and Clark Street to the west.
Then and Now
The concept and style of Graceland Cemetery dates back to the Victorian era, when the idea of fashioning a cemetery after public parks gained popularity. The inspiration arose as a reaction to the terrible conditions of urban cemeteries in early 19th century England. In an effort to reverse the public perception of graveyards as thoroughly unpleasant places, Victorians began converting cemeteries into expansive park-like memorial grounds that would be more inviting to the living, and would make them feel more comfortable about leaving their loved ones there to rest. Chicagoans liked the way this sounded and followed the same philosophy when creating Graceland’s northern site.
Until the early 1860s, Graceland was located near Lake Michigan in the present-day Lincoln Park neighborhood. After a series of large storms and flooding, concern was raised that the cemetery’s proximity to the lakefront could be potentially hazardous as it could contaminate the city’s drinking water. As a result, the Chicago City Council ordered that all graves in Lincoln Park be dug up and moved further inland.
The new burial grounds would be opened outside the city limits, in the then-township of Lake View. A lawyer from Virginia named Thomas Bryan took advantage of the move and bought the land on which the cemetery now rests in 1861. Bryan was a lawyer from Virginia who had studied law at Harvard and set up a successful practice in Chicago. He was very involved in civic affairs, and committed much of his own capital to the relocation of the graveyard. After it opened, Bryan presided over the company that ran Graceland as its first president, and prominent landscape architect William Ogden was on the board of managers.
Because the cemetery was modeled after the grand parks of 19th century England, it is one of the most scenic retreats in Chicago. People come to Graceland to view the headstones and mausoleums of some of the more famous residents of the cemetery, or simply to walk about or picnic in Graceland’s well-landscaped confines.
Exploring the Grounds
Landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland (one of the chief engineers behind Prospect Park in Brooklyn) was commissioned to design the new Graceland Cemetery in the 1870s. Cleveland’s blueprints called for a uniform plan without fences around individual plots to create an open park-like feel. Also involved in the project was Ossian Simonds, another prominent landscape architect. He insisted on using naturalistic techniques and incorporating plants that are native to the Midwest.
Before their most famous contributions to Chicago’s skyline, such as the original Soldier Field structure, the Palmer House hotel and the Chicago Board of Trade Building, the architectural firm of Holabird & Roche was called upon to enhance Graceland’s grounds with the addition of the cemetery buildings in 1888, which included the crematorium, chapel, waiting room, and office.
Because of its proximity to Wrigleyville and Lakeview, Graceland cemetery is one of the most accessible cemeteries in Chicago. And since both of these neighboring communities can be so lively, driving might not be the best option (although it is certainly possible). If you do drive, there is meter parking on Clark Street and Irving Park Road, but check beforehand to see if there’s a baseball game, which would make parking at these prime spot much less likely.
If you wan to play it safe, there’s a CTA Red Line train stop just a few blocks to the east of the main entrance at Clark Street and Irving Park Road. There’s also a CTA Brown Line stop about five blocks to the west of the main entrance as well. Bussing it to Graceland is another option: Coming from the west, the #80 Irving Park bus is probably the best bet, but the #78 bus is also an option. Coming from the south, the #22 Clark Street bus is the most reliable bus.
Chicago Transit Authority - (888) 968-7282
Graceland Cemetery - 4001 N Clark St - (773) 525-1105
Hours: 8:30am to 4:30pm, daily